On a completely different note…

Here’s the start of the project I’ve been working on for NCIC and the New Hampshire Grand Initiative:


This is the first of many, and there are more already on deck in my computer. I’m going to be spending the next 10 months (at least, I hope) publishing and publicizing the adventure opportunities Northern New Hampshire has to offer through photos and videos. Hopefully through getting the word out there people will start to realize what an asset the region is.

And besides, who wouldn’t want to run around Coös County checking out adventure opportunities and shooting video. If only I could get it to be full time…

Just kidding, I don’t want to give up reporting, but this is a great side project for a great cause. And honestly, the job change makes me a little more confident I won’t run into conflicts of interest. I ran into one this week involving PSNH (they gave me a scholarship for a leadership program I’m doing at WMCC), and while disclosing the conflict is good enough I prefer complete separation.

Anyway, let me know if you enjoy the video. I always said the region needs to market itself better. Now I’m doing just that. Look for more of these in the coming months.

(Fhe final version should be on the NCIC Facebook page shortly, with some minor edits and additions.)

What’s Next for Cascade

Funny how things work. The week after I give my notice at the Reporter the biggest story since I’ve been in Berlin breaks, and I’m watching it as I sail away.

The deal to sell the Cascade mill fell through, according to Fraser, meaning 237 employees will almost certainly be laid off in the coming weeks. The paper mill isn’t the largest employer in the city, but many of these people have no other skills. If this mill stays closed it could add significant hardship to the region.

I was on NHPR today talking about it, giving some of the details about the events leading up to the closure. I’ve been trying to prepare for this possibility all week, including interviewing a historian on the paper industry just today to get a little more background. Tomorrow I may be on the Exchange on NHPR again talking about the closure.

It’s a little strange to be answering questions as I walk away from my full time job up there, but again I won’t be leaving the area. This event is important not to let go, not to ignore, because it is both a huge shift for Berlin/Gorham and the whole Androscoggin Valley and indicative of the struggles of industrial communities around the country. I’m going to be squeezing more into less time, but my telling the story of the North Country is far from over.

A Short Look North

Several councilors and staff members congratulated me on my new job last night at the council meeting. The discussions threw into sharp relief why the transition was a difficult decision.

Berlin has been good to me. My bosses at the Reporter allowed me to chase whatever stories I wanted, and city staff, politicians, business owners and residents always welcomed me into their lives and opened up about stories, issues and events. I’ve been out on my own, but in a community, not just a city.

So why go? Because the Reporter’s resources are limited, and being a one man show in a city of 10,000 is a tough job. Many times I felt outmatched, if for no other reason than because I was alone. To get the resources to handle such a challenge I need to be the least experienced reporter in a newsroom for a while, not the only reporter in a newsroom on wheels.

But I don’t want to give up my connection to the North Country. I’m already digging into some bigger projects with more long-term objectives than a daily or even weekly newspaper. Things are changing in Berlin, some for the good, others for bad. I don’t intend to lose track of that.

I want to tell stories better; that’s what this next move is all about. I want to see how the daily deadline works for me, how the pressure to generate content in hours, not days, affects my work. But I don’t intend to reduce the other projects I’m working on, the larger pieces that fill out the flesh of daily reporting. They tell a side I haven’t been able to get into so far, but it is lining up for the future.

I won’t have the time I had at the Reporter, I won’t have the same flexibility, but a close friend of mine told me she works better under pressure than when she has the time to put things off. I think that’s a universal: when forced to perform, we do. Daily deadlines are one version of that paradigm, as are my non-print projects. I may have to squeeze them in, but in doing so I may just do them more, do them better.

But I will miss the daily connection with the North Country, and I will lament having to “squeeze them in.” But if the outcome is better storytelling, better reporting and a more impactful version of history, the sacrifice is worth it. I may miss the North Country, but it I can tell its story better it’s a change worth making.

The Length of the Story

I have a hard time expressing everything I see, everything I hear, everything I think is of value. It is almost a physical impossibility to get it all across.

Think about it: my job is to go around and talk to people all week, to find out what is going on in Berlin, and to put it down on paper. How many conversations do I have? And how many come to nothing? Lots, that’s the answer for both.

There is so much there. It is unlike anywhere else I’ve been. There is a sense I get every time I drive north on Route 16 that I’m traveling back in time to an era when neighborhoods where connected. It’s an entirely unfair feeling, since lots of people in Berlin are transient or recent emigres, but it’s what I feel nonetheless.

And every random five minute conversation tells me something more about the city. Every time I stop by the police station is see a small town going through growing pains, and I don’t know how to get that across.

Growing pains—a funny way to refer to it in a city that has lost more than half its population. But that’s what it is. Prior to the pulp mill closing, people didn’t move to Berlin. It was largely left alone to flourish, and only the resilient Berliners had what it took to live beneath the stacks.

But today, with the smell gone and the jobs gone with it, there are lots of reasons to move there. Most of them wind up in people’s pocket at the end of the month, saved from what they would have had to pay in a rental unit downstate.

Berlin is attracting an influx from away, and it isn’t the kind every resident wants. But what kind is the kind every resident wants?

I’ve heard people talk about how the smell from the mill used to be called “tourist repellent.” I grew up on the coast of Maine, so I can understand that sentiment, but I wonder how that impacts today’s environment. I have heard people express their support for ATVers visiting the area, but what happens when a different style of tourist discovers the city?

Berlin is blue-collar, and that’s largely how it wants to stay. The people flocking there now, mostly to take up residence in the slums, are not welcomed by residents. What about the other end of the spectrum? I know that isn’t currently Berlin’s problem, but I do wonder how people would like BMWs, Audis and Volvos clogging the city streets instead of ATVs and lifted four-by-fours.

Those are the things I can’t get across. Those are the feelings, the details, that tell me so much about Berlin, that make it dear to me. It is working class, maybe to the point there is too much class struggle in residents’ identities. But how does that impact them in the 21st century, when the Great North Woods no longer shelter them and no longer provide the economic engine they once did?

I am looking for a way to tell that story. That’s the one that needs to get out.

Not the Usual

This has been an atypical week in a number of ways. Between chasing down Reporter stories and trying to scrape something together for NHPR I’ve been flat out. Today I took a break for a dose of education.

I shoot video already, but I’m far from what I would call an expert, so I spent this (last?) beautiful September day in front of my computer attending a webinar on video storytelling.

I’ve got a week left at the Reporter, but I will be in fact devoting more time to telling the story of Coös County soon. This class was my launching off point.

Working for a paper, even a weekly, makes it difficult to dive into the true nature of a place. The true nature of Berlin isn’t in it’s weekly council meetings, and Coös County is far beyond the police logs. It has a depth that doesn’t lend itself to the broadsheets, or at least not the broadsheets as gathered by such a small staff.

I look at a year and a half worth of Reporters next to At the River’s Edge, the recent documentary about Berlin. Which tells more about the city? Which gets more to its roots?

I have toyed with a documentary about Berlin for a while, but I have no experience with such complex projects. I do think, however, that while At the River’s Edge told the history of Berlin, no one has yet told its present. That is where I see my future.

I need to improve my storytelling, without a doubt, before I will do such a task justice. But the real story of Berlin is too broad for 500 words.

And it is a story more broad than just Berlin. I found these today while looking wasting time between speakers in my class:

Look familiar?

The decline of the paper industry devastated from Bangor to Berlin and beyond, it isn’t just one town’s story. But that universality can’t be told by looking wide, it takes focus to get it across.

I’m taking a new job, but in a way it has given me renewed focus on just what it is I want to do in northern New Hampshire. That was always the problem working at the Reporter; connections with colleagues were tenuous. I was out there working alone. It’s easy in that environment to lose inspiration, to get bogged down in the day to day and miss the bigger picture. The real story is so much bigger, so much more complex, that it would take me an hour to relate.

But I have that hour. I have all the time in the world. I just need to go get the story, and bring it back to people who want to hear it.

Eats, shoots,…

…and leaves.

I’ve been offered a new job. Actually, this is the third or fourth job I’ve been offered since beginning my shift in Berlin, but this is the one I said yes to.

I’m not moving, I’m going to work for the Conway Daily Sun. The paper is about 10 minutes from my house, is a daily instead of a weekly, and, most importantly, it has an office.

This was a difficult decision for me, but it really hit home today when I saw my current job on Craigslist. I probably talked to a dozen people who’s opinions I trust before I decided to say yes, but ultimately I think it was the best decision.

That after a day that was one of my busiest in recent weeks chasing great stories all over the Androscoggin Valley.

Two key conditions of the new job were that I would be able to continue working with NHPR and that I could continue with my plan to go to Iraq. Neither was an issue, so I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no.

What I need is an office environment, where I can collaborate and bounce ideas off other reporters, in order to improve as a reporter. Berlin deserves excellent reporting, beyond the caliber I’m currently able to offer. Hopefully by making this step I can get closer to that level of professionalism.

But I won’t be leaving the area. I’ve come to care about the North Country, and I’ve made connections and commitments that will keep me there. I have two projects now that will keep me in northern New Hampshire, and I’m developing plans for two more.

I’m interested to continue to watch development in the North Country, particularly the biomass projects and the federal prison. There are possibilities for the future, and I intend to stay involved, to watch what happens. Who knows, perhaps after I get the experience I crave now I’ll return. But not now. For now the role I played in the Berlin discussion for over the past year and a half is coming to an end.

Raining

Both figuratively and literally.

If bad things come in threes, how many good things come at once?

I’m working on a NHPR project, a Charitable Fund project, a New Hampshire Grand project and my Reporter work. Several other interesting offers have come up, and USF–Iraq got back to me to explain what I need to do to make the Iraq trip happen. It’s so much I’ve barely got time to write.

But the NHPR piece, which is about the fate of the Cascade mill, makes me take pause. The operation is in limbo, and the solution needs to come quick for the 237 jobs to remain. What will that mean for this area? It means the federal prison needs to hurry up and open.

It’s interesting that the debate is how to keep this facility open. The workers would be in trouble if the jobs go away, but the long term viability of paper-making in the United States is by no means given, even with the proposed improvements. It again comes back to the large scale retooling of the workforce.

But what does that mean for the people left behind? Nothing good, as far as I can tell. For them it’s raining too, but in an entirely different way.

New Tools

I got a new lens the other day, a 35 f1.8. I took it out for a spin briefly while on my porch today, and I’m pleased with the result:

The tools of reporting are changing, and trying to keep up with the times is a big part of 21st century journalism. I tote a camera with me everywhere I go, but I also take an audio recorder, a microphone and the ability to shoot video. Not much else will fit in my little bag.

I sent a followup email to the U.S. Forces—Iraq media office to see where I am with my embed request. They responded everything looked good, but they will be back to me shortly. That has got me thinking once again about what tools I’d shove in a bag to the Middle East.

I’m going primarily for radio, but there isn’t a chance I’d leave behind a camera. But on top of my reporting gear, the list includes a bulletproof vest, a helmet, ballistic goggles and armor piercing plates—that’s a bit more kit than I’m accustomed to.

How do you get the story home? What is the best way tell it? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now. With the Reporter, I’m primarily a writer. I shoot photos as well, but most of my time is spent researching and writing stories, only one of the mediums I love to work in.

Some of the freelance work I’ve been doing recently is audio production, one of the best mediums to tell stories. I’d love to be doing more of that. Much of the motivation for the Iraq trip is to build my radio resume, because reporting from the Middle East is exactly what I’d love to be doing.

But a huge chunk of my recent work has been video, a fuller medium to work in. I just put together my first piece for a new northern New Hampshire client, something that will hopefully help raise the region’s profile in the long run.

It’s great to work in so many mediums—I’m not sure I could choose just one. The way of the future for reporters is to be able to handle it all, as new software and better equipment makes it possible for anyone to create.

But I spend thousands of dollars, on microphones, computers, lenses, cameras, cables and memory cards. I’m ordering new software: $170 and $450; new lens: $550; new audio recorder: $600. It’s a race to keep the equipment ahead of the curve, and at the same time keep my credit card below the limit.

But the results! I just shot a video with one of my cameras and edited it all in a day. I’ll post the results as soon as I’ve given it to the client, but it’s great, particularly how it got used. Running through the woods, jumping over rocks, splashing through rivers, it performed throughout.

But getting shot at in Iraq? That’s a bit more testing. I took $4,000 in camera equipment to Peru, and it made it back fine, but that wasn’t a war zone, literally. Expensive tools plus desert sand sounds like a perfect storm for their demise.

An opportunity like this, however, should it arrive is not something to be passed over lightly. There will always be new tools.